Friday, August 15, 2014

Here’s one for you, Phil and Eric, in which I fess up and then some (though you’ll have to come back for Part II - The Confession if you want some real candour)

This is by way of a letter to two friends I had many years ago at Dundee University, PW and EC. I shan’t give their full names, but they will know who they are (hint: Phil and Eric, and two finer names I really cannot imagine).

This particular entry comes about as a result of several comments I have posted in response to posts they - PW and EC - have made to Facebook, specifically in relation to the ongoing conflict - the current five-day truce notwithstanding - between Hamas and Israel. (I should like to reiterate my view that I don’t think there are two protagonists in this matter, but three: Hamas, Israel and the Palestinians living in Gaza, with the latter more or less condemned to the role of playing ‘piggy in the middle’ (an unfortunate phrase given that they are Muslims, but I hope readers will accept that no offence is at all intended and that I am just using a standard English phrase which seems to sum up their pitiful fate very well. If I could, off-hand, think of another, less insensitive, phrase, I would gladly use it.)

This entry has, however, a broader purpose.

I am one of those folk who suffers from something akin to a butterfly mind. Over the years I have managed to find ways to get the upper hand on it somewhat, but I still find it far easier and far more effective to crystalise my views, opinions and convictions on most matters when I am engaged in debate and when I write. If, on the other hand, I try to consider a matter quietly - in solitude, so to speak - and try to analyse my own views, I seem to get nowhere, go around in circles, lose track of my own thought and, within just a few minutes, will pick up my guitar and pick out those same damn chords and playing those same damn riffs I seem to have been picking out and playing for the past 90 years. At that point all ‘thought’ goes right out of the window.

When, on the other hand, you are - I am - debating a matter (and I find it insufferably dull to be part of a conversation where all parties agree wholeheartedly), I am obliged to use a little more intellectual rigour and to keep track of my argument. That is, in my view, far more worthwhile, not to say, far more productive, and it is also the case when, as here, write and have to marshal my thoughts a little more. And I suspect that is true of most of us.

Writing, however, has both an advantage and a disadvantage: the advantage is that you can go back over what you have written and hone it, edit it, get rid of the flab, sharpen your argument, ensure the thread of your argument flows well and doesn’t take a jump somewhere which comprehensively leaves your reader behind. (Incidentally, years ago I realised that what is written does not have to be ‘perfect’ straight off. Every writer, composing whatever it is she or he is composing, whether fiction or not, has as many opportunities as she or he wants to shape what is being written before it is ‘made public’. Unfortunately, all too often I don’t follow my own advice, but that doesn’t detract from the efficacy of editing what you have written before ‘publication’. I use the word in the broadest possible sense.)

The disadvantage is the same as is present when you are sitting alone ‘thinking’: there is not other party or party to hand to point out the obvious crap you are coming up with. In theory, of course, the remedy is in the process of revision I have outlined above. In practice . . . And there is also the unintentional, often unnoticed, digression, which means you think you were talking of one thing, but end up talking of quite another, while, meanwhile the reader asks: is it me? What the fuck is going on? Is it me?

There is also the problem - from which I’m sure I, too, suffer - that all too many of us have a distinct tendency to ‘have an opinion’, then cast about for whatever respectable argument we can scavenge to bolster that opinion, to justify and substantiate it, to give it a veneer of intellectual respectability. Such opinions, furthermore, are essentially not intellectual views but emotions and feelings. There is nothing wrong with emotions and feelings, but they do not function on the same plane as intellectual reflection and debate and one should never confuse the one for the other, although in practice it is almost always a one-way street.

So, for example, to go back to the Gaza conflict I touched upon above, a great many folk have seen the TV pictures of death, injury and destruction wrought in Gaza and, whether consciously or not, more or less sided with Hamas. That is the, wholly understandable, emotional response. And Hamas knows that, and that is why Hamas has been winning the public relations war by almost a knockout.

What those TV pictures, however, don’t touch upon is the outright evil cynicism of Hamas to sacrifice totally innocent men, women and children to the greater good of their overall aims by - and I understand the UN has confirmed that they have done this - launching their missiles from schools and hospitals. Perhaps they have taken to heart what that arch-fraud Tony Blair was accustomed to recite: ‘Look, you know, you’ve got to, you know, look at the, you know, bigger picture’. The bigger picture, in my example, is: Hamas = the saints, Israel = the sinners. Or to put it another way, on the world stage: Hamas 1, Israel 0. (At this point I am so tempted to say it, that I shall most certainly say it: now ignore the ‘bigger picture’ and pay a little more attention to the details.)

But I have already committed the sin associated with writing which I mentioned above: I have digressed, and digressed so far, I am in danger of losing track entirely of what this post is intended to be about. And that is my politics.

. . .

Given postings I have read from PW’s Facebook posts (and, by the way, hi there, in an obscure way this post is purely for your and EC’s benefit), he is or would seem to be what would conventionally be described as ‘left of centre’. Where EC rests on that particular political spectrum is, from his Facebook posts, a little harder to discern. Most pertinently, I would not blame them if they had decided, given my comments on their posts, that I am now decidedly ‘right of centre’. But I really am not, not by a long chalk.

First off, that left/centre/right spectrum is more or less hopeless. It is nothing more than the tool of lazy journalists and media historians with an eye on making a splash on TV. It means absolutely nothing. Certainly it allows those who like to garner their opinions from the rag of their choice a spurious range of easy comments - so and so can be dismissed out of hand because he is ‘a lefty’ and so and so can be castigated out of hand because he is ‘right-wing’. But when push comes to shove they tell us as much about the individual concerned - and specifically the nuances of her or his thinking - as knowing that Elvis lived in Graceland which was in a town called Memphis tells you about Elvis and his music. That is, fuck all.

I knew both PW and EC at Dundee University. EC was a little older than me, but in my year, and PW was in the year above us. I can’t remember either being overtly political, although as this was the Sixties I expect both were far more in tune with the ‘progressive’ Zeitgeist than I ever was. To put it bluntly, in the five years he spent at Dundee, this young chap, the product of a Roman Catholic primary school (on a fine day, Miss O’Malley would say things like ‘there’s enough blue in the sky to make a cloak for Our Lady’ and where I learnt to nod my head every time I said the word ‘Jesus’), who progressed to a Jesuit college in Berlin, before being dunked, as it seemed to me at the time, head first into a sewer of sexual repression that was a RC public school, didn’t know - to use a phrase is about as descriptive as they get - shit from sausages.

Admittedly, most of my friends were ‘lefties’ (though they are so no longer, natch, despite what they like to think, earning too much money, they are now, to be bothering with all that except to pay lip service ‘left thought’) but that was only because it was the ‘lefties’ who smoked dope. And boy was I fond of dope. Oh, and the lefties were usually far funnier than the rest, and to this day I do like to laugh.

Ironically, given the company I kept, the public school crowd who tried to make me one of their own for a month or two at the beginning of my time at Dundee, put me down as a ‘lefty’, and the ‘lefties’ all put me down as a dilettante, or so I like to think. (Incidentally, I do fondly recall the sheer earnestness of the ‘lefties’, though I now admire their idealism, of which I had less than none. There were two

Some of my friends at Dundee. Lord was I glad they were on the case

groups: Solidarity and International Socialism. And, if I recall well, they loathed each other with a venom which you could almost bottle and sell for £10 a pint. Where is that earnestness now? These days everyone is far, far too intent on sucking the government's dick and ‘joining the workforce’ and/or (delete as applicable) ‘building a career’.

That was all - I hate to say it - 42 years ago, and my sole consolation is that it was also 42 years ago for PW and EC. The irony is that as I have grown older, but especially, over these past 14 years or so, I have found myself drifting irrevocably ‘to the left’ (except that ‘to the left’ is still a nonsensical notion) but that might well come as something of a surprise to PW and EC, especially given my comments on the conflict in Gaza.

. . .

This is where I must admit that I do miss debate. It is no bullshit: these days I love debate, although I say that with the proviso that I can’t be bothered getting into a pseudo debate which in practice is nothing more than trading prejudices, and - probably supremely arrogantly - I refuse outright to discuss anything with anyone who I feel hasn’t actually thought for her or himself but is just parroting what they read - and probably thoroughly misunderstood - in the Guardian, Telegraph or Twitter earlier in the day. As for folk who like to quote the Daily Mail, forget it. I love my colleagues dearly, but . . . (Those fucking migrants, eh, come over here, do all our work . . . )

. . .

But the two half-litre cans of Kronenburg 1664 I had earlier on at my stepmum’s (and the two La Paz Wilde Cigarros cigars I smoked while drinking them - sorry lads, but in mitigation I must tell you that I buy them online from Holland where they cost just €0.56 (45p) each which compares very favourably with the £11 the shysters in this country charge you for five of exactly the same cigar) and the three 333ml cans of Jack Daniesl and cola (just £1.85 at all good branches of Asda) are beginning to tell. And 1) I am beginning to ramble, but 2) I really can’t be arsed to follow my own advice and edit this before posting it, so I had better get to it and the point of this post. Which might just have to follow in a subsequent post.

March them up to the top of the hill and all that. Magic!

1 comment:

  1. Greetings, Dear Patrick! Thanks so much for wanting to debate and indeed communicate with me and indeed the venerable Eric. I think Eric's position on most things Middle East arises from ther fact he has lived there, and knows a greeat deal about how the man in the Saudi Arabian Street thinks. This is syuff we rarely get to hear about, primarily, I think, because our Establishment are so keen to sell weapons etc to Saudi Arabia that they don't want to create a shitstorm by revealing what the Saudis really think about us. (See Eric's recent post about the great similarity between the thinking of ISIS and the Wahhabi (Saudi Arabian) movement.)
    Re Hamas, please don't think I support them. I have commented elsewhere on what I am beginning to see as a strange conspiracy between Hamas and the Netenyahu end of Israeli politics whereby they each provide the basis for the exisatence and primacy iof the other. Israel continues to cynically encroach on any vaguely attractive piece of 'Palestinian' territory, maintain a blockade which reduces Gaza to a prison camp for 1.5 million people and bomb the fuck out of Gaza every few years. Hamas, even more baldly cynical, fires thousands of totally ineffective rockets at Israel, to ensure that Israel has sufficient reason to keep up the good work. Hence, the behaviour of each party ensures that the other party is the only logical choice for the electorate of the respective political entities.

    Re Left-wing and right wing, I think for me this spectrum refers to the degree to which I regard the human race as great because it is above all a collaborative and socially oriented species, and at the other end, the degree to which I think the humasn race is great because of the fierce independence of the individual and the competition for resources that entails. The first position implies a certain reduction in absolute individual liberty and the second implies a downgrading of the human tendency to progress through the development and improvement of the species/group/neighbourhood as a whole rather than just the immediate gene pool. It has seemed to me that positions taken by individuals on this spectrum have usually been definable along thoise lines. When extremes are adopted, the left-wing brings out the tooth and claw competition between idealogues and interest groups, and on the right wing, the pursuit of absolute individual freedom ends up requiring the enslavement or terrorising of 'lesser mortals' or indeed, the general population of the country concerned. Clearly, I believe I have struck exactly the right balance and achieved a perfect blend of individual liberty and social responsibility. If only everyone else could be like
    On another note, one of the Dundee experiences I look back on very fondly, was the Charity Revue we put on in the Easter of my final year, and your contribution especially. 'Heavens, where's Victor?!?'

    All the very best to you, Patrick.